After the amazing view from Hatu Peak in Narkanda, a royal experience in Rampur Bushahr, taking in the simple mountain village life at Chitkul and relishing the unbelievable beauty at Rakcham, it was time to move on to newer experiences. In case you missed reading about my experiences mentioned above, you can always read them here.
We set off from Rakcham early morning after a quick breakfast of Aloo Parathas. We could barely wait to discover what was in store next! As we moved forward, we witnessed a dramatic change in the landscape – the mountains became less and less green the further ahead we went. After a point in time, the lush green mountains were completely replaced by barren sand-spitting masses!
Well, the mountains were not the only thing that was changing. The roads became more and more uncomfortable and we finally traversed “the most treacherous road in the world!”
The Border Roads Organisation or “BRO” had put up several sign boards on the way to caution people to drive carefully. Some of them read:
- Mountain area a pleasure only if you drive with leisure;
- God helps those who help themselves best; and even
- after whisky, driving risky!
After the bumpy ride made entertaining by the BRO, when the treacherous path was finally over, the quality of roads turned truly impressive.
We passed the first Buddhist village on our way – quiet and peaceful as ever.
We also passed Pooh – an important army camp and Shirkila – the closest village to China (18 kms) and an important trade route.
We then entered the Hangrang Valley, the second largest valley of the Kinnaur district after Sangla Valley. It is situated along the border of Kinnaur and Tibet and Spiti. Chango is the biggest village in the valley.
The yellow barren mountains gave us a hint as to the desert that we were about to enter. Seeing the mammoth mountains at eye level made us realize for the first time how high we had come!
Nako is the most popular village in the Hangrang valley mainly due to the Nako Lake. An extremely small village, mainly known for the Nako Monastery and the Nako lake.
The Nako monastery was a quaint little place – the first monastery of our trip.
We spent some time there, explored the settlements at the back and strolled around in the premises. There was also a prayer wheel in the village behind which chimed away by itself due to the force of the wind:
The next stop was the Nako lake – sacred and pretty. Some travelers had set up a tent right by the lakeside which made for a cozy sight! We selected our abode for the night to be Hotel Lake View which was literally AT THE LAKE! We just had to stand on the doorway of our room to see the lake right in front of us. The little horticulture done on the edges only added to the landscape!
We reached there around 3 PM and felt our bellies grumbling. So we ordered chai, mix pakoras and French fries for our snack.
With tummies full of yumminess (lol), we spent some time by the lakeside in peace and then started our hike to the top of the hill for the view of the lake from top.
Travel Tip: One thing to remember when travelling to such high altitude locations is that after even a few steps, you will start panting. You need several breaks for even a kilometer long walk as the oxygen levels are quite low there. So keep yourself hyderated and understand that panting is normal. Just enjoy that too 🙂
The hike to the top of the mountain was also neither too steep nor too long but took us a while to climb (we were also busy admiring birds and the amazing view taking photos along the way). The entire route was full of stones and didn’t have a defined path throughout. So remembering how we got there was important to ensure we didn’t have to take the steeper path while coming down.
Apart from the view, there was a huge prayer wheel on top. We spent some beautiful moments surrounded by mountains on all sides and the lake below. It was captivating to watch the day slowly turn to night as the sun set behind the mountains. The lake took a completely different look during sunset.
We climbed down as the weather began to turn a bit hostile and it started raining which is not a common feature here.We went back to the hotel and sat by the lakeside enjoying old Bollywood songs and loosing ourselves in the tranquility.
The hotel was affiliated to the famous Kinner camps (which were incidentally right next to our hotel). The food was brought from the same kitchen and was quite delicious.
Bidding adieu to the wonderful location by the Nako lake, we moved further ahead in our journey. Once again, the landscape changed and this time we just couldn’t contain ourselves inside the car and got off. The mountains changed from brown to yellow though the sky remained blue as ever and the clouds only enhanced the picturesque view further!
We saw the Hango village from up above from which the Hangrang valley got its name.
This time it was the Spiti River that was flowing merrily below.
After we got back reluctantly inside the car after several minutes of sheer admiration of the view around us, we were in for another surprise. This time, our driver suddenly stopped the car saying there were Ibex on one of the mountains! We were thoroughly confused as we couldn’t see a thing. When we did spot them, we let out a sigh! They were so perfectly camouflaged with the mountain rocks that only an expert could have known they were there!
Ibex Trivia: The Himalayan Ibex, which are a sub-species of the Siberian Ibex are usually found at very high altitudes of 12000 ft and above. The adult weighs around 90 kgs and the male has large curved horns. They have a thick and wooly coat in winter which they shed in summer. Their colour also varies slightly as per the terrain giving them the benefit of camouflage as they are a prey of the snow leopard. They feed on grass and small shrubs and are herbivores.
Traveler Tip: It is nearly impossible to spot one by yourself. Make sure you tell your driver in advance as they know the areas where the Ibex usually stroll and have a better chance at spotting it.
Next, we headed towards Gue village which is famous for the only ‘mummy’ in India! The mummy is over 500 years old and you can see the teeth still milky white and perfectly preserved. The mummy is said to be of a Lama, who is in a sitting position.
The mummy was earlier kept in the village and is now moved to the Gue monastery premises. It will be moved in a special room in the monastery which is currently under construction.
The Gue monastery itself was an extremely beautiful building adorned with colourful pillars.
There is a stairway that leads to the top and the view of the snow-capped mountains from up there is simply breathtaking!
Traveler Tip: The place is a 40 km detour from the Nako-Tabo route, though let me assure you it is every bit worth the effort and time. The route itself is so scenic, has a different landscape and a water body flowing down below. The monastery premises itself offer splendid view of the mountains all around that is enough to lift your mood.
This was a moment captured just when we were exiting Gue. The scene was truly representative of the alertness with which our jawans guard us!
Our next stop was the Tabo monastery – known as the purest monastery in the world where Dalai Lama has expressed his wish to settle down after retiring. Like nearly all monasteries in the valley, there is an old monastery and a new monastery. It was quite a busy one with monks all over the place, a prayer room from where chants could be heard, a number of visitors and devotees and even tourists.
The inside of the monastery was extremely quiet. Cellphones and cameras are not allowed inside. The walls are adorned with paintings. We settled ourselves on one of the low seatings by the side and sat there meditating. The blissful few minutes that we spent there were inexplicable and brought in a certain mysterious calm which our usual city life can never bring! It was an experience which I truly cherish.
The compound of the monastery itself is quite charming with colourful flowers planted at the perimeter and small temples and structures on the backside of the monastery.
Armed with tranquility, we set off towards our next stop – Dhankar. This was one place I really didn’t know much about and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. On the way, we passed by some caves in the mountains which were used by monks for meditation. Up and up into the mountains we went and even went through extremely rocky, almost non-existent roads but one look at Dhankar village made me fall in love instantly!
Trivia: Dhankar is a small village at an elevation of 12,774 ft having a population of just 331 ! Dhang means cliff and khar means fort, which is how Dhankar got its name. It means a fort on the cliff.
And I must admit that ‘the fort on the cliff’ was indeed an experience to remember!
Though the climb was a bit steep, the view from the top was enough to leave me spellbound! On the way up, we spotted the beautiful rose finch and I just sat down with my camera to capture the pretty little bird.
From the top, we witnessed the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers emerging from different mountains but meeting each other.
Sunset from there was enthralling and left me in a trance. I don’t really remember the downward climb as I was so dazed by the artistry!!
Traveler Tip: While you don’t get altitude sickness in a trip like this since you start at lower altitudes and gradually pick up height, it is tiring to walk and it is typical to get a headache here. The solution is to ensure you drink enough water which helps in keeping headaches to the minimum.
We then settled ourselves in our hotel – Hotel Dhankar Heights – which offered the same fascinating view of the mountains and the village below that we spent so much time at our balcony ogling at the view we had got!
After a delightful dinner of paneer kadhai, dal fry and butter roti, we took the car and set off towards the edge of the mountain where there were no lights to do some star gazing. There were quite a few stars in the sky, though the moonlight was too powerful and we couldn’t get the view of the galaxy. It was wonderful to sit below a star-lit sky having engaging conversations – an experience a city can never provide.
Next day, we planned to do the trek to the Dhankar lake, but we overslept and decided that we didn’t have enough time to manage it. Well, believe it or not, it isn’t easy waking up to such fabulous sights and not get a bit tempted to stay where you are admiring the surrounding beauty 😉
Traveler Tip: The Dhankar lake trek is supposed to offer splendid views of the Dhankar lake and if you manage to reach early morning around 7-ish, you can see the mountains reflected in the lake which makes for a lovely sight. A recommended trek to take.
Phew, that brought another 2 days of ‘the super Spiti Trip’ to an end and what rich experiences!!!
In case you guys didn’t notice, most of the “happening stuff” on this trip was in the journey itself! We barely did much once we reached the destination except spending some peaceful time admiring the view and introspecting. The most appropriate way to describe this trip would be to say “It’s all about the journey, not the destination”. And so it is with Life 🙂
On that philosophical note, I close my current post. Until next time, where I shall bring to you 2 contrasting places – a national park and a ‘city’ in Spiti valley!